Cayin Fantasy ($799): Silver is the color of this fantasy

Cayin Fantasy: Silver is the color of this fantasy

Pros: Gorgeous looks
Superb detail
Superb clarity and air between notes
Not antiseptic
Fantastic packaging
Very good fit

Cons: Upper mids a bit bright
Sometimes too hot treble for me
Not enough bass for me
Not mine

Cayin Fantasy ($799): Silver is the color of this fantasy

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Fantasy

I rated the unit at 4.5/5 stars even though the sound signature does not match my tastes and even with a treble, which is a bit too bright. The goods far outweigh the bads, and as an affordable flagship, should be judged on the goods/bads; not my tastes.

Intro:

Cayin has been on a roll of late regarding their developments. I have always appreciated their products and consider the N6ii to be the benchmark at that price to me. So much so, that when I purchased the excellent E01 motherboard I did and do not miss the balanced option. Would I love the E02? You bet. But I have other DAP’s for that. When Andy contacted some of us for the tour, I graciously accepted and waited my time. Some early reviews espoused the vibrant clarity-driven sound, but with a bit of lacking down low. Well, I would agree but to be honest when hooked with the included (for the tour, purchase is separate) 4.4bal cable of copper and silver I do not miss what may be lacking. Designed around an ergonomic futuristic shape, the Fantasy rides along easily. I did most of my testing with foam Comply’s for the fit, isolation and to see if I could get out every last microgram of bass the Fantasy could provide.

It is good, and I hope you enjoy the read. I thank Andy and Cayin for the continued faith in sending tour products this way to the heart of America. I truly appreciate it and have not been led astray. All that is asked is an honest review, with critique sending to Cayin through a channel and to go from there. My time draws close to ending but I have had the pleasure of about 75hrs listening.

As per manufacturers request, the unit was burned in for the recommended minimum of 75hrs. I went for 100hrs as I had others in the queue.

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Specs:

  • 0.3mm dual cavity with two-way magnetic driver structure with 9.5mm beryllium-plated diaphragm
  • Elegant design inspired by stringed musical instruments
  • Grade 316 stainless steel enclosure
  • Maximum compatibility 0.78mm 2-pin connectors
  • 4 conductors, each composed of 8×0.08mm 6N OCC and 30×0.05 silver-plated core, 200D break-proof wire
  • Gold-plated 3.5mm TRS Male Audio Connector

In The Box:

Fantasy earphone
12 sets of tips including two Comply’s of medium (as per Cayin, this is the most used hence they offered two sets. A nice justification)
1.3m OFC copper/silver core cable in 3.5se
User manual
Cable clip
Cleaning brush
Tweezers (for removing tips, a nice thought)
Earphone pouch, with internal separators for each IEM
Cleaning cloth (it’s a stainless-steel IEM and fingerprint prone)



Gear Used/Compared:

Dunu SA6 ($549)
Moondrop S8 ($699)
UM 3DT ($399)
EE Hero ($1349)

MBP
Cayin N6ii mk2 E01
Shanling M6 Pro
XDuoo XA-10
iFi Zen CAN/DAC

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Songs:

Alex Fox
Pink Floyd
Buena Vista Social Club
Elton John
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Shane Hennessy
Jeff Beck
Dave Matthews


Unboxing:

My immediate reaction, even after seeing a review, which outlined the unboxing was all ooohs and aaahs, much like the Empire Ears experience. Both mimic a jewelry box type of opening, complete with drawers. The box is large, but for good reason. There is a lot of kit included, and one protects their flagship as one see fit, which is very well. Sliding the sleeve off, which even has an opening for the user to hold onto, you are presented with the main box, which has two unevenly spaced clamshell type openings. The sleeve itself is coated for longevity and ease of grip. This is a premium experience. The specs on the back are in easily readable raised gold and even includes a list of the accessories inside.

The slate gray box is thick and with an excellent tactile feel. Often times the unboxing, even with flagships is an afterthought and that is all right; but one should expect a decent presentation if one spends the Ben’s. I have another flagship, in which I did not care about the unboxing experience. It did not matter to me. This would be different and that TOTL feel exudes from each side of the box.

Sliding open the larger clamshell flap exposes the IEM’s dead center like a diamond on display at a museum. A plastic flap allows you to remove the foam insert once you have opened the lower flap. Festooned to the opening between the clamshells is an attached “Fantasy” plate, so when opened you get the IEM’s and the plate. Simple elegance. But wait…this is where it gets good.

Opening (and lowering) the smaller shell you are privy to the two drawers, which hold the cable, storage box and accessories. I know this for it says so on each box. There is also a holder for the 12 sets of tips, which include two sets of medium Comply’s (the most common size). Included in the accessories is a plastic set of tweezers, which is used to carefully remove the tips from their respective holder. A nice touch.

I will openly admit that this is among the best unboxing experiences this side of the MMR Thummim and EE Legend X or Hero. Cayin has ramped up their attempt to capture the ears and eyes of those looking for a flagship. But as we know looks are one thing, you gotta have the goods to back it up.

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Technicals:

This Cayin Fantasy uses a Beryllium plated diaphragm with a 10.3mm dynamic driver, which has two-way magnets. Due to this lightweight material, and its rigidity, the speed of sound response is enhanced with excellent fast decay characteristics. The result of using this material lends itself to not only quick response, but with the fast decay there is no “leftover” sound once each note has been played. This gives the sound a quick response, without sounding “drippy” as something with slower decay might.

Milled out of solid stainless steel, the Fantasy’s build quality is as good as you would expect, following Cayin’s high standards. The solid steel exterior feels dense and with a bit of heft, but with a premium feel about it. Dense and with good heft, but in-ear the feeling is not noticed. So, it is not too heavy like some such as the MMR flagships. The 2-pin ports fit snuggly and easier than some of late.

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Build/Fit/Finish:

Often times when a manufacturer makes an IEM that is shiny, it turns into a bling-thing. And while the Fantasy is indeed shiny, the sculptured shape of the shell helps hide or rather make mysterious the color scheme. Mixing that triangular shape in the outer shell with curves gives a futuristic sensuous shape leading to the curvaceous shape of the inner shell. With a vent hole on top, next to the 2-pin insertion point, the unit fits the two shells and inserted (and perfectly formed) nozzle without fuss. The feel in hand is enhanced with dips and “hollows” around the edges giving a good tactile feel, without being slippery. The screen actually unscrews for cleaning and it would be an easy leap to include interchangeable filters in an updated model. The overall appeal and look as well as build are top notch and to be expected at this price.

The included 3.5se cable is of 4-wire, 38 strands each with a mix of OCC copper in the core wrapped by silver-plated copper on the outside; so, the look is one of purse silver on the outside. Sound as you would expect is on the slightly warmer side and mixes well with the cleanliness of sound emanating from the Fantasy. Microphonics are non-existent and I appreciate that. With quite long flexible plastic sleeves as ear guides, fit is excellent as well. The longish jack attaching the 2-pin gives a good sturdiness to the cable as well as strain relief. Each of the Y-splitter and jack are hexagonal, which also gives a good feel. Adding in the 4.4bal cable and the cable is a mix of silver and copper strands. To me the sound as a result of the balanced option is more vibrant yet, and slightly warmer as well.

You get the whole package here, including fit. If you need a larger tip, like I did I would opt for a softer foam if that is your preference. The silicon tips were no problem, but as stated above I utilized foam tips to try and squeeze the last bit of bass out that I could. The Fantasy is hitting all of the right aspects of what a flagship should be: fit, feel, looks, and presentation. Top notch all so far.

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Sound:

Synopsis:

The Fantasy come across as one of the cleanest sounds of late with enough air between notes to make Air Supply jealous. That distinctness of air lends itself to a clarity few have at this level. But often that clarity promotes an analytical sound, which can seem antiseptic; lacking a feel. That would not be the case. While it may be lacking enough bass for my tastes, amps such as the excellent iFi Zen DAC/CAN combo have the Bass Boost switch, which can properly add that low end, which is missing. Notes from guitar work or jazz are sublime in presentation, and female vocals sing with a distinct flavor. While the treble may be a bit hot for my tastes, that does not dissuade from a perfectly formed signature, which should appeal to those wishing for a clarity-driven sound playing across many genres.

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More:

As mentioned, the bass is a bit lacking in weight, which may be due to speed at which it is delivered through the Beryllium coated driver. For a single DD this seems to be on the lighter side weight-wise for bass. Using the aforementioned iFi combo though brings out a good push, which does not intrude upon the overall signature like some can when boosted. I also find that the speed does not hinder the enjoyment nor make for a sterile low end, adding the right amounts when necessary. Mind you this would never be mistaken for the Hero’s low end, even if the signatures share a somewhat common amount of clarity (that’s about it). But enough to keep you involved, without overshadowing the other aspects is all one could ask for. Consider this playing nicely, but not in a boring manner. The bass is good and proportional to the sound signature, but just not enough for my tastes.

The mids to me are the star though, as is often the case in my experience with flagships (save the EE LX of course). Forward and up a bit this is an engaging mid-section. Do not think of an intimate experience but think of an experiential experience. Female vocals and that jazz sound of which I speak is superb in presentation, even with a bit too much bite for me in the upper mids. That said, those upper mids present what is to me (and a couple others) the best aspect of the Fantasy: the vibrancy defining part of the signature. That vibrancy adds to the fun nature of the signature, but I would not call it an immature nature. This is well defined and knows where it stands with regard to presenting cymbal clashes, jazz instruments, guitar work and female vocals. Male vocals while good fall a bit behind. And by bit, I mean not quite as vibrant. To me this could be the combination of the upper mid push and lack of deep end grunt. Dave Matthews voice typically sounds sublime and rich in tonality. But here that is second to the vibrant presentation, which provides the fun factor. That fun factor is vibrant and rich, though. Just don’t expect it to be on the warmer side.

I like well-presented treble notes, and by that, I mean notes, which provide good clarity and air without being harsh, biting or sibilant. The Fantasy provides all of the above but can come across a bit sibilant. I would not really call it sibilant, but rather that vibrant touch to the upper end. The treble notes are so good that they can convey a sense of sibilance but instead it should be thought of as thoroughly representing the sound at that end. That said, when playing jazz such as Winton Marsalis, the presentation is of a smooth character, which is what his melodic trumpet needs. This could have easily gone off the deep end with brightness, but there is just enough to convey a full signature, but still have that smooth character to it. Call it sparkly-smooth and that would be apt.

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Soundstage/Instrumentation/Separation:

Combining that smooth nature and slightly rich tonality with the vibrancy mentioned above coalesces into a soundstage, which is deeper than tall and wide. That depth is very, very good and conveys the sound in a somewhat elongated fashion, but without distorting the field. Think of looking across a valley to the next mountain with the ability to see right in front of you all the way across with excellent detail, but a bit lacking in width. Still an excellent view, but a bit average in width and height. That is not a bad thing though as not everything needs a soundstage like the Grand Canyon.

As a result of that depth, instruments are clearly laid out in front of you, and this enhances the airiness and clarity from those sounds. Placement is accurate and adds to the overall tonality presented. As a result, separation is good as well. That airiness plays into the separation and jazz of the instrument variety plays ever so sweetly here. EDM does as well. This is a signature that when taken as a whole plays smoothly but with enough vibrancy to keep you engaged and busy. With the excellent isolation, one can easily lose yourself in louder circumstances without a care in the world.

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Comparison:

Cayin Fantasy ($799) v Dunu SA6 ($549):

When the Dunu arrived, it immediately became one of my favorites at this price. With the changeable switch and gorgeous looks, the SA6 presented a new look and sound for Dunu. One, which has been followed successfully followed by the Luna, Zen and others. Presenting another mid-forward sound, but with better bass reach the SA6 can hold its own here. Plus, it comes automatically with three interconnects for 2.5bal, 3.5se & 4.4bal connections. I would say that the Dunu presents a bit MORE forward sound than the Fantasy, and with a bit more vibrancy. The Fantasy is smoother in response, with better clarity between notes, and this could be that coated driver again. It really is amazing how close some can be when looked at superficially. These are quite similar to me (bad ears and all), but the Fantasy comes out with a more open and airier note, which is magnificent. The SA6 still drives me wild with its signature, though. In a good way. We are indeed lucky to have both options at hand. I think if you want a more engaging vibrant sound, then the Dunu wins. Smoothness and vibrancy your character? The Fantasy.


Cayin Fantasy ($799) v Moondrop S8 ($699):

From memory, I really liked the S8 and this could be the closest competitor to the Fantasy. With a better reach down low as well you get an involvement, which is hard to pass up. I do find the Fantasy a bit more immersive in its signature. Your involvement is needed a bit more with the Fantasy, even with that smooth signature. I like the Blessing2, but the S8 is deserving of its place at the top, and along with the Fantasy could help consumers (yay, us!!!) to help determine at what level that satiated feeling occurs. We can all admit that prices for true flagships are approaching hyper-TOTL levels. And I for one find it quite refreshing to have the two options available as their keynote presentations.

The S8 comes across as a bit less mid-forward than the Fantasy, but this certainly does not mean it is lacking, for it isn’t. Think of the kid who knows a lot, but hangs to the back of the room, not wanting to flaunt his or her knowledge. This would be the S8. Mind you the Fantasy isn’t the boisterous one either, just not as subdued as the S8. Both are technically very good. This may come down to fit (S8), a smooth character (both, but Fantasy) or a bit more bass (S8). I did not find anything lacking on either and the tribute version of Wish You Were Here, with Joe Satriani’s transcendent guitar work is awesome through both.


Cayin Fantasy ($799) v UM 3DT ($399):

As a longtime fan of UM, once I saw the 3DT, I bit and bit hard. Finding the signature to follow UM’s trait of an engaging, rich and vibrant texture of a signature with enough bass to keep you involved, I found the 3DT to be true to that UM character. Mids are withdrawn compared to the Fantasy, and hence male vocals come across a bit behind the song, almost not wanting to impose themselves too much. Bass is more prominent and reaches deeper as well. Harder to drive as well, the 3DT is not for everyone, but neither is the Fantasy. Driven to provide a gorgeous look with a signature to match, the UM succeeds at a price point that has been lacking since the Maverick (look it up, it was good). UM to me has been one of the forefront runners when it comes to innovation and flagships. Thankfully this has not come at the expense of their “lesser models.” The 3DT is out of its element here and should be considered singularly to the Fantasy. If one could afford one at each price point though, they would be an excellent complement as the UM sound has a smoothness, which draws me in and has from my first listen so many years ago. The Fantasy does as well, but with that mid-forward push to let you know that vibrancy counts as well.


Cayin Fantasy ($799) v EE Hero ($1349):

If I could boil the Hero down to one word it would be ROCK. This thing just rocks. Period. With the legendary bass of the LX, but updated, I am lost for words in describing the Hero (except for the review). Some (including me) do find the treble to be too forward and a bit bity, hence the classic V-shaped signature. But between that there is an airiness of note, which rivals the Fantasy (it should for 2x the price…). Smooth would not be a way to describe it. Think of the Mythbusters episode where they blew up the cement truck. It scared the heck out of Jamie and literally blew the truck to tiny bits. That would be the way the Hero hits. It is not for the faint of heart. I find it the perfect complement to the LX. If I need a smooth listening experience with massive bass, the LX hits. If I need that explosive vibrant richness wrought with a bass like very few around, then the Hero is the choice.

The Fantasy takes a more scalpel-like approach, and is precise in its presentation, where the Hero is the sledgehammer. If you want precision, then the Fantasy winds hands down. If you want that aggressive sound like Emilio Estevez’s rant in The Breakfast Club, then the Hero is it. Window shattering would not be far from the truth. Different approaches, but the end result is the same; one in which you very much like what is coming to your ears.

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Finale:

After all this verbosity what hath thee? As written above, many manufacturers take their flagships seriously in sound and price. Many bite for that product and I have been lucky to hear most of them. I do not fault any for that approach. Without that approach we would not have the Thummim or Aventador or any of the excellent Koenigsegg models. But to me this is pointless if it does not trickle down to their “lesser” more affordable models. And here is where Cayin is banking that you take note and take notice. For if the flagship of a company compares well to the higher priced flagships of others, then you should take note. And the Fantasy can hold its place with many that cost much more.

Think of the Fantasy as the coming out of that kid in the back. They have been quiet for so long you almost forgot they were there. Now that they have spoken, you can do nothing but pay attention; for if they speak it is a worthwhile endeavor to listen. And listen closely. The Fantasy is a wonderful addition to the flagship land of which we venture to peruse. And I for one applaud that it is an affordable one to boot.

I thank @Cayin and @Andykong for the loan through the tour. I wish I had more time, but that is the selfish part of me. Someone else now gets to give their views on the flagship from Cayin.

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